If you’re a CPA, the learning never stops.
You earned your certification by meeting the requirements of your state board of accountancy. You’ve also met the education requirements and passed the CPA exam.
However, CPAs have an annual commitment to take continuing professional education (CPE) courses. This rule protects the public interest by requiring CPAs to learn about changes in the industry. Consider these examples:
Most CPAs advance in their careers within a particular industry. Say, for example, that you move up from a staff accounting position in banking to CFO. You’ll need to build your knowledge each year, and the accounting issues you face become more complex over time.
CPE courses can help you gain the knowledge to succeed in your industry.
The AICPA is working with IFRS to make international accounting rules more consistent with the US. If you work for a firm that does business overseas, you need to know about the differences between accounting methods.
Tax law changes
Increasingly, CPAs that do tax work are specializing in the field. Because the tax laws change frequently and are so complex, tax preparation is becoming a year-round occupation. Continuing ed courses are a good way to stay informed on tax law changes.
CPE courses can help you advance in your career, but you need to understand the process.
How to Earn CPE Credits
Firms that offer CPE courses must follow a set of standards.
The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) works with the AICPA to create the Statement on Standards for Continuing Professional Education (CPE) Programs. The most recent set of standards are listed here.
It’s important to understand why CPE courses are offered, and how the information can be delivered to CPAs:
- The learning activities are designed to maintain or improve the professional competence of CPAs.
- A CPA reports CPE information to their state board of accountancy.
- CPE credit may be issued for independent study, self-study CPE, and for group live programs.
- CPE can be delivered as online courses using live webcasts, or a live webinar. Recorded online courses are presented as self-study courses.
Before you take a CPE course, verify that the sponsor is approved by NASBA. Click on this link to search for a particular sponsor.
You may not need to pay for every hour of CPE you need each year. Here is a list of free CPA resources for CPAs:
AICPA CPE Courses
The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) offers hundreds of CPE self-study courses.
If an accounting change happens, the best way to learn more is to check the AICPA website. You’ll find that this site provides the most current information on proposed accounting changes, and reports when policy changes are approved.
To find free courses, type “free CPE” in the search bar, and you’ll find CPE courses. Here are some current free ethics CPE offerings (in Behavioral Ethics):
- How Corporate Culture Can Breed Fraud If Left Unchecked
- Building a Fraud Resistant Organization
- Your Role in Sustaining a Culture That Deters Fraud
These courses are online self-study programs.
BDO Online CPE
BDO is a CPA firm based in Belgium. The company offers auditing, tax and consulting services in 162 countries, and they’ve generated $9 billion in revenue for 2019.
Here are two upcoming courses they offer that provide free CPE:
Corporate Finance Institute (CFI)
CFI provides online certification courses for professionals working as financial analysts. The website offers CPE credits for courses that teach financial modeling, financial analysis, and accounting content.
The firm is registered with NASBA as a continuing professional education sponsor.
CFI’s free courses include:
- Accounting fundamentals
- Reading financial statements
- Fixed income fundamentals
- Excel spreadsheet courses for finance
- Introduction to corporate finance
As you can see in the links, CFI’s free CPE courses use high-quality video content, attractive graphics, and a useful course outline.
CPE Think currently offers five free CPE courses. Additionally, this company sells a number of courses in an online format. You can take courses on the site, and print your CPE certificate of completion when you finish.
Crowe CPE for CPAs
Crowe is a US-based public accounting firm that offers auditing, tax, and consulting services. The firm offers CPE credit through conferences and webinars. To earn CPA credits for webinars, you must view the original live webcast.
This international Big 4 accounting firm offers their famous live Deloitte webcasts called Dbriefs.
Deloitte conducts a number of industry surveys and presents the survey results in a webcast format. You can also learn about developments in the accounting professional, and get industry updates.
Current topics include:
- Mid-market technology trends
- Quarterly accounting roundup: Q3 2019
- The evolution to a tech-savvy board
You can use this page to find upcoming webcasts organized by industry.
EY CPE and Webcasts
This firm offers a large number of courses; many provide free CPE credits.
You can listen to EY webcasts live and on-demand. Ernst and Young separates their CPE courses into several categories:
- Service lines: Including accounting technical, tax, and international tax courses
- Industries: Automotive, banking and capital markets, and consumer products courses
- Other topics: Affordable Care Act, Brexit, and tax reform topics
This FAQ page explains their requirements to earn CPE credits.
Financial Services Firms
A number of financial services firms build relationships with CPAs by offering CPE courses.
This company offers CPE programs to CPAs and tax preparers who work as Enrolled Agents (EAs). Accountants take courses at participating Edward Jones branch offices— some of which are free.
Contact an Edward Jones financial advisor in your area to find out more.
Wells Fargo Bank offers free CPE courses through CPACharge. Here is an upcoming free course: Cyber-Liability and the Credit Card Industry.
This site provides links to a number of free CPE courses from many companies, including some that are discussed in this article.
Grant Thornton CPE
This firm is the seventh-largest network of accounting firms in the world measured by combined fee income. The company is based in Chicago and has over 7,200 employees.
You can find a number of Grant Thornton’s CPE webcasts and free courses here.
Moss Adams Continuing Professional Education
Moss Adams is an accounting firm that focuses on public and private middle-market companies. Here are some courses that you can currently access:
- How to Navigate Strict Health Care Fraud Regulations
- How to Prevent Financial Loss and Address Emerging Fraud Risk
- The Decision Machine: Analytics and the Rise of AI
PWC is an international accounting firm that offers cutting-edge research on accounting and finance topics. They also provide their PWC webcasts, CPE on demand, and several other free courses that meet CPE requirements.
PDP scheduled (public) seminars
PwC subject matter experts present live, in-person seminars on a number of industry topics. The seminars address current topics in banking, insurance, investment management, and real estate.
PwC offer live webinars on developments in the accounting industry. The webcast topics are similar to those offered in the live seminars.
To earn CPE credits, you must remain online for the entire program and answer the polling questions asked during the program. The current requirement for polling questions is four questions for each 60 minutes of content.
Finally, PwC provides CPE for financial executives, including CFO professionals. The firm offers live webcasts and on-demand courses. You’ll find a library of course topics here.
If you plan your CPE courses, you can find a number of free options that provide meaningful information.
So where do you go from here?
What To Do Next
Your time is valuable.
Many CPAs put off completing CPE courses until the last minute. They scramble to find any course that’s available, and they don’t get much out of the process.
Don’t be like these people. Make your CPE hours count
Use these tips to get the most out of the process:
Find CPE sponsors that offer effective courses and get on their subscriber lists. Pay attention to their communications so you can sign up for interesting courses.
Every CPA is bombarded with CPE marketing. Finding some preferred vendors limits the amount of incoming email and physical mail that you need to read.
Your career path
CPA courses are a great tool to learn about a new topic or to improve your skills in your industry. Furthermore, these courses are especially useful if your change industries.
Assume, for example, that you move from the financial services industry to a construction firm. You need to learn more about cost accounting, workplace safety, and worker’s compensation insurance.
CPA courses can help you get up to speed. Additionally, the cost to take these courses might be covered by your employer.
Vendors and other professionals
Finally, remember that financial services companies, law firms, and consultants may offer free CPE courses. If you have those types of relationships, make sure that you find out about their course offerings.
Vendors use CPE courses to build a connection with clients. If there’s a specific topic that you’d like to learn, ask a vendor to provide the course. Some firms are willing to offer a customized course to a group of CPAs, which benefits your accounting team.
Here’s my final recommendation. Bookmark this page and revisit this discussion as you progress through your professional education. Consult this resource in order to save money on CPE courses and help advance your career!
Frequently Asked Questions about CPE
Occasionally, some of the Big 4 accounting firms will offer free webinars that can be eligible for CPE credits. Check these links from PwC and Deloitte for more information. Additionally, the AICPA will sometimes offer free CPE credit resources as well.
Self-study is a format of CPE that is offered by many educational companies and prep course providers. It involves earning CPE credits by studying independently and verifying your understanding of professional knowledge by passing an exam. These forms of CPE are often found online; however, some institutions such as the AICPA can offer self-study CPE in text format as well.
CPE is short for Continuing Professional Education. All accounting professionals who are certified as CPAs or CMAs will need to complete a specific number of CPE credit hours every year in order to maintain their credentials. This ensures that all practicing accounting professionals are up-to-date on the latest developments in their fields of expertise.
The AICPA provides information regarding specific CPE requirements for CPAs here. However, there may also be additional requirements depending on in which state you practice your profession. Check your local State Board of Public Accountancy for this information.